LANCASTER, Pa. — Walt Moore and Jared Kurtz run dairy farms on different scales and with different feed strategies, but both have the same objective.
“Our goal is lots of high-quality milk, healthy cows, optimize feed costs and feed a diet that meet the needs of the cows,” Moore said. “That’s where the rubber hits the road in the parlor.”
That feat is not without challenges at a time when feed prices are rising, the fourth-generation farmers acknowledged during a Feb. 2 panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.
Moore tries to maximize the nutritional value of his forages to help him cut back on purchased feed.
He operates a 1,025-cow dairy, Walmoore Holsteins in West Grove, and farms about 1,800 acres of corn, alfalfa, triticale, and dry mixed grass hay.
Kurtz manages his family’s 320-cow herd with 260 acres that is double-cropped with rye, corn and triticale at Kurtland Farms in Elverson. He also grows mixed dry hay and sorghum-sudangrass.
Corn silage is the key ingredient for both farmers’ total mixed rations.
Moore says that his knowledge of brown midrib varieties has grown in the past decade because he has hosted hybrid trials for the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and Penn State Extension.
He looks for varieties with high neutral detergent fiber digestibility.
During chopping season, Moore and his nutritionist regularly test wet silage from the field. If the moisture level falls outside the sweet spot of 63-67%, Moore adjusts the cutting size.
Moore runs three tractors to pack down the wet silage into bunker silos. To reduce spoilage, he’s always looking for ways to shorten the time between filling the bunker and covering it with oxygen-barrier silage tarps.
“I try to get a cover on it that night. We may not put every tire on, but we seal our perimeters,” he said. “We also try to have enough corn silage to last until the end of December of the year.”
Kurtz and his family used to grow only brown midrib corn silage varieties, but they have had to switch in some fields because landlords for their rented ground didn’t want heavy manure applications on their properties anymore.
“The cows milked really well on it, but we just can’t make enough with our limited acres,” he said.
In addition to the small remaining amount of BMR corn, Kurtz has adopted triticale and sorghum-sudangrass.
For triticale, timing is key to strong yields.
“I’ve noticed our biggest return on double cropping is getting those seeds into the ground quickly,” Kurtz said.
Moore has also warmed to triticale in the last five years.
“We keep ramping up the acres of this,” he said.
Some Pennsylvania dairy farmers have dropped alfalfa because of winter kill and poor performance during wet weather.
Kurtz said his family quit alfalfa because they needed more tonnage and consistency out of their forages.
Moore said he still grows 450 acres of a low-lignin variety.
His field crew cuts the alfalfa four times a year. In June and July the goal is to finish by 1 p.m. to capture high sugar content in the crop.
“It’s still bulky enough to keep that rumen going,” said Moore. “It’s really more of a fill them up to keep them full and happy.”
Moore feeds eight different rations — two for dry cows, and six for the various stages of lactations — and adjusts them daily with his nutritionist.
“It sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but we are trying to optimize what stage of lactation they are in,” he said.
Moore and the nutritionist check forage sampling results, walk the barns, and look at look at data on individual cows’ fertility, health, nutritional status, and milk tests.
“I literally text our nutritionist daily,” he said.
Moore also looks at milk fatty acid data collected by his cooperative, Land O’Lakes. The fatty acid data is a new pilot program that Moore believes could help him improve his feeding strategy.
Moore gives special attention to his fresh cows and an “elite” group of first-calf heifers that are producing 90 pounds of milk 50 days after calving. Their diet includes 9-10 pounds of hay, and a 3- to 4-pound mixture of corn silage, alfalfa and triticale.
“We really try to target in on those groups of cows. We do that because their diet needs are different and their competition is smaller,” he said. “It’s amazing what some of those young heifers can do.”
At Kurtland Farms, the 250 cows that are ready to calve or have recently freshened receive a certain amount of protein pelleted feed when they step into the Lely robotic milker.
“It’s kind of the four-star hotel luxury that we want our cows in,” Kurtz said.
High producing cows receive 17 to 18 pounds of pellets, while low producing cows and cows close to drying off get fed three pounds or less.
Kurtz has also invested in a Lely robotic feed pusher for his barn. By habit, cows root their noses around in piles of feed, which means they push a lot out of their noses’ reach, especially at night, when a farmer is not around to push the piles back.
“That is where it really paid off, overnight. The last time we are in the barn is typically 9 to 11 p.m.,” Kurtz said.
Instead of using a robot, Moore depends on hired labor to push his feed piles back.
“It seems we can never get somebody in a skid loader enough,” Moore said. “It is critical. You can have the best feed in the world, but if they can’t reach it your cows won’t do well.”